Some People Can Only Manage Suffering

An Unproven CEO of a Failing Company Does Something. Held As Bellwether.

The tech story of the week has been the edict by Marissa Mayer, the relatively new CEO @ Yahoo, that remote work is no longer an option. The people in such arrangements at Yahoo need to change their plans, moving if necessary, and begin the migration to Yahoo headquarters.

(EDIT: Apparently a whole 200 of Yahoo’s 14,500 employees were in such arrangement. Meaning that 1.3% of Yahoo’s workforce were apparently responsible for the lack of innovation and creativity at Yahoo if you follow the common narrative)

Given that telecommuting is a topic mired in controversy, resentment, entitlement and jealousy, this set off a wildfire across the media: Does it “signal the end” of telecommuting?  [Answer]

Comment sites are stuffed with people in such positions defending their entitlements, while others jealously deride those “slackers”.

We don’t really know why Mayer and her team took the actions that they did. Yahoo may truly be a company infected with malaise, lost in a defeatist attitude that they’re riding out the days until the full collapse occurs, any effort being wasted effort. The staff may have been unmotivated and ambivalent about the health of the company.

Shaking things up in every way possible might be the best thing they can do.

Others speculate that it’s a stealth layoff, made knowing that many of those in such arrangements will simply move on rather than move back.

But that doesn’t matter. It is being held as something greater. Already some are trying to mimic the “trend”.

And there is some rather delicious irony in the whole deal.

Yahoo Exists As A Workplace Tax

Yahoo is one of ranks of online companies that primarily exist because of the classic office environment, where bored workers  sit managing their fantasy football leagues, query as to the forming of babby’s, and read up on the latest celebrity gossip. I am speculating, but given what I know about her peers I would wager that the majority of Yahoo’s traffic, and thus revenue, comes during each visitor’s respective work hours.

Yahoo exists as a tax on workplaces.

The same can be said about many other sites. Slashdot, when it was on top of the universe, was generally a ghost town outside of the North American work hours (small blips as Europe and Asia rolled into their offices), which is a pattern mirrored in sites like Reddit and Hacker News.

If someone wants to avoid work there are countless mechanisms to do so, whether in the office or not. While most don’t even know what games come free with recent Windows variants, before web site time sinks like Facebook came along, Minesweeper and Freecell were the subject of countless hours of paid “labour”.

Which brings me to the topic of seat warmers (or, in the case of Yahoo, VPN-port warmers, as nonsensical of a notion as that is), and the profoundly ignorant belief that someone keeping a seat warm for 60 hours a week is beneficial to anyone. Or, to get more to the real issue, the flawed belief that sacrifice, by itself, is worth anything.

Sacrifice is worthless.

Sacrifice may yield contribution, but minus contribution the sacrifice itself is worth nothing to anyone. Conversely, contribution without sacrifice is just as valuable as the most blood-soaked alternative.

There are periods in every organization, product, and personal life where sacrifice is called for. But never in vain, and never as compensation for failure, which too often it is.

[Aside: In virtually every piece about Mayer the primary subject has been her sacrifice. Not her ability to motivate, her ideas, her intuition or ability to get to the real problem, but rather that she has a 90-hour work week and was back to work days after having a child. I hope and suspect that there is much more to her, but it is an example of the cult of sacrifice that infects North America]

Which is why the notion that home workers are “slackers” is often inverted from the actual: When you work at home you have far less of a capacity to use projected sacrifice as a surrogate for accomplishment. You can’t make a big show of your heroic late-night stints or early morning arrivals. You can’t slack for months on end because you did some face time and attended some meetings that accomplished nothing, and thus your value is annealed.

When you work remotely, your contribution is everything. The proxies for contribution disappear.

But here’s where the incompetent managers come into play: Many managers have no idea what the people under them are doing. They don’t understand the problem set, the work space, or what is a contribution and what is not.

All they can measure, and all they optimize, is suffering.

Which is why Mayer’s mandate speaks to them in tongues. Why they have rushed forth to provide their quotes and FW: FW: FW: links to Mayer’s piece.

Other opining on the topic simply live in a different world and have absolutely no idea what technology work is about. Michael Bloomberg is an extreme extrovert whose work is primarily dominated in the dealings with other people, so his opinions about working remotely are entirely irrelevant.

But the world and the workplace will continue changing, and this is a minor blip in the modernization of modern work arrangements.

Most home offices are better equipped than many workplace offices a few short years ago. We have collaboration technologies to work effortlessly together remotely with greater ease than the most intimate of office situations. We have high quality shared video with multiple participants. We have coding tools and processes that allow individuals throughout the world to code together more effortlessly than if they were sitting aside each other.

Remote collaboration, communications and innovation is a long solved problem, and is the vehicle by which organizations have geographically distributed offices, even if some of those offices have but a single tenant.